A column was published today in the Tallahassee Democrat (Michael McShane: Don’t blame vouchers for poor science instruction) that agrees with my earlier column in that newspaper concerning how it’s wrong to teach creationism, but then he distorts the purpose of my column and attributes motives to me that I don’t have.
In other words, he completely missed the main point of my column, which was about the need for better accountability in voucher schools. Or maybe he purposely twisted my intentions out of whack to serve his own ends. I don’t know. In my column I was very careful to not bash voucher schools overall and even stated “Florida Citizens for Science does not take a stand for or against voucher programs.” I also didn’t blame the lack of public acceptance of evolution on voucher-accepting private schools. But if anyone reads McShane’s column without referring back to my own column, the reader would get the wrong impression that I blamed voucher schools for the proliferation of creationism.
“Gallup polling consistently finds about 45 percent of the population of the United States believing in creationism. Note, this cannot possibly be attributed to the pernicious effects of vouchers, or private schools writ large, as approximately one half of 1 percent of students participate in voucher programs and at no point in the last 50 years have more than 12 percent or so of students attended private schools.”
OK. I have no problem with that statement, but it doesn’t address anything I said in my column. In my column I noted that there was an effort in the state legislature to expand a voucher program. Then I said that some, not all, voucher schools teach creationism and they get away with it because there is no accountability. Finally, I argued that any expansion of the voucher program should include an accountability requirement. At no time did I say that voucher schools were the source of the general public’s belief in creationism.
“But on the specific issue of creationism, the explanation is relatively straightforward. Public schools teach creationism because they are, at their core, political institutions. They are governed by elected officials. If a majority of the voting public in a particular jurisdiction believes in creationism, they will advocate for creationism to be taught in the public schools.”
That is only partially true. I’m sure some teachers in strongly conservative school districts get away with teaching creationism simply because no one complains. But any outright, public advocacy for creationism would be quickly shut down because it’s illegal to teach creationism in public school science classrooms, according to the U.S. Supreme Court. I’ve written about many such attempts here in Florida in my book. McShane has no idea what he’s talking about.
“So what do you do if you are a person who lives in an area where the preponderance of the voting population believes in creationism? If you’re wealthier, you can move to the attendance zone of a school that teaches evolution or pay for your child to attend a private school that offers the correct interpretation of scientific history. If you’re poor, you’re out of luck. You will be legally compelled to send your child to a public school that teaches something you know is wrong.
“That is, unless your state has a voucher program.”
Wrong. If your child is being taught creationism in a public school science classroom, you complain. You talk with the teacher and let that teacher know that teaching creationism is illegal. If that doesn’t work, you move up to the principal. Then you move up to the school board and superintendent. Finally, if all else fails, you set a lawsuit in motion. Yes, you can move to a voucher school (hopefully, one that has a good science program). But that’s not your only option.
McShane, if you want to be a cheerleader for voucher schools, go for it. But I wish you wouldn’t use a distorted interpretation of my views and a gross lack of understanding of how creationism in public schools can be handled to do it.